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Showtime at the Sun Valley Culinary Institute
Monday, April 25, 2022


It was showtime at the Sun Valley Culinary Institute for Curtis Ginnetti. Fourteen guests were coming to lunch--all there to check out his debut as a chef.

But the young student in the Institute’s first professional chef program seemed unfazed.

“Once you’ve done the hard stuff, like rafting through Wild Sheep rapid in Hells Canyon, other things seem tame,” said Ginnetti calmly. “This is a matter of making sure there’s enough food for everyone and getting set up so we’re not starting behind. We want to be ready to serve our guests as soon as they walk in.”

The Sun Valley Culinary Institute is now seven months into its first professional program. And it’s having each of its students prepare a three-course lunch.

Ginnetti’s was the first to create a menu within budget, creating dishes to which he added his own touch. Additional lunches will be prepared at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 27, and May 4. Reservations may be made at

Ginnetti and the others spent two months in October and November learning basic knife skills and various ways to prepare meat, chicken and seafood before spending the busy ski season apprenticing in resort restaurants. GInnetti worked at Brundage Mountain Ski Resort where he got to prepare an occasional dish like New Orleans Shrimp Jambalaya amidst flipping burgers for the ski crowd.

“My training here absolutely helped as I was able to help train people there,” he said.

Drake Humphreys worked at the Sun Valley Club where he said he learned patience as he helped train foreign workers, some of whom didn’t speak English. He also got a taste of how busy the Christmas rush can be in Sun Valley.

“We had a couple days during Christmas week where we had 250 tickets,” he said.

Jon Watson worked at Ketchum Grill, and River Greenfield worked at CK’s which he said offered him the greatest professional experience he could have hoped for.

“We did 130 dinners one night but CK’s kitchen is so organized I never felt overwhelmed,” he said as he described the 20-by-4-foot kitchen where three people work, grilling, sauteing and preparing salads. “I learned to always be prepared, to be fast, to keep going. And I loved seeing people enjoy the food I prepared. It makes me happy.”

By the time they collaborated on the inaugural student-prepared lunch, it was clear all four had come a long way.

When they started in late September, they spent hours practicing slicing potatoes uniformly. Instructor Geoff Felsenthal chastised them frequently about keeping the floor swept and the kitchen clean. And he had to serve up a running dialog directing their every move.

Wednesday morning each calmly did what they needed to do without being told. Ginnetti sliced apples for his braised cabbage and pork loin entrée quickly and uniformly. And Watson worked to top falafels with a Tzatziki sauce and cucumber slices.

“I’m not a person to keep apples in the water,” Felsenthal told Ginnetti as he watched the young chef slide his slices in a bowl of water. “It takes all the flavor out. And if you use lemon water, the apples end up tasting like lemon water because they’re like a sponge.”

Felsenthal turned his attention to the falafels, which Watson had placed on small plates.

“The only thing I’m going to say about this is that they slide a lot,” he said.

The budding chefs immediately come up with a solution, placing a napkin underneath the falafels.

As Ginnetti and Watson worked in the kitchen, Humphreys and Greenfield cleaned windows and polished wine glasses and serving plates before setting the table.

“The food and service have to be on the same level,” said Felsenthal. “We’re not looking to fulfill our guests’ needs but exceed it. This is a service industry. It’s an art and we want to exceed expectations. We want to know what the customer needs before he or she knows it. We want to refill their water glass before they ask for it to be refilled. We want to give them a roll before they know they want another roll.”

As the diners savored their food, Ginnetti moved from table to table explaining how he chose to create an entrée of pork tenderloin and braised cabbage because he enjoys cooking with cabbage.

“It’s a lot of fun to work with—a simple thing but delicious,” he said.

He gestured to cups containing chocolate mousse topped with streusel crumbs and crushed peanut butter chips.

“The dessert is something that I would want to eat but it has a different twist than what you might expect,” he added.

 One of the four tables featured four women celebrating Kim Nalen’s successful knee replacement a week earlier. They had no trouble expressing their enthusiasm for the meal.

“It’s all very flavorful,” said Nalen. “I feel full but not too full.”

“I love the braised cabbage, and this salad is so colorful---I love the Hoison sauce. It has a great gingery Thai taste.” Said Muffy Ritz, gesturing towards a salad made of Miso glazed lettuce wraps with tofu.

“It’s light and fresh. And healthy,” said Glo Kimball. “You don’t feel guilty eating lunch like this in the middle of the day.”

“I just feel guilty I’m not taking my any home to be my husband,” groaned Jan Wygle.

Mindy Meads, the board president of the Culinary Institute, said she planned to attend all the student lunches.

“It’s kind of a cool environment, and it’s fun to see them in action,” she said. “It’s also very exciting to see where they’ve come from to now. I feel like I’m an aunt—my maternal instinct is coming out. And I can see their pride in what they’re doing.”

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